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This Utah district will let high schoolers start class at 9 a.m.

(Photo Courtesy of Douglas Flagler | Jordan School District) Teacher Bethany Alston helps students with a biology lesson.

This fall, Jordan School District will launch a first-of-its-kind program giving some high school students the choice to sleep in.

Bethany Alston, a teacher at Riverton High who helped push for the initiative, joked that it can’t come soon enough. When she’s teaching first period biology, she’ll notice a student using a textbook as a pillow or a kid nodding off while she’s trying to explain osmosis.

“They’re just too tired to learn in the morning,” Alston said.

Some students at the nine technical and traditional high schools in the district will be able to sign up for one or two online classes in subjects such as science or math. The work can be done at any time and at an individual pace. And, as a benefit, the enrolled students won’t have to show up to school until 9 a.m. — an hour and a half later than when the first bell rings.

The hope is that students will use the extra time to get more sleep.

“We know there are great health benefits when they can get proper rest,” said district Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. “Teen sleep patterns are different. And just going to bed early isn’t always the solution.”

For the pilot year starting in August, the courses will be open only to juniors and seniors. But the district plans to expand the offerings if it’s popular.

The move comes as neighboring Salt Lake City School District is considering whether to push its start time back for high schoolers.

There’s been some tension over those plans, though, because it would also mean students would get out of school later in the day. Some parents have worried it could impact sports and extracurriculars and part-time jobs while just pushing homework later into the night. And a 2017 poll from The Salt Lake Tribune showed most had reservations.

But Jordan’s new model won’t change the time school ends. “And it’s entirely optional,” Godfrey said.

If a student wanted, they could also arrange their own class schedule to where they get out of school earlier, he noted. It’s up to the individual, though the district’s goal was focused on sleep. Most research shows that later start times can reduce sleep deprivation, making high school students less likely to experience anxiety and depression. Districts in the nation that have implemented delayed starts have also reported improved academic and athletic performance, according to one often-cited study from the University of Washington.

Only one other district in Utah has moved forward its start times — Logan City School District in northern Utah — which adjusted them in 2017 so its high school would begin at 8:45 a.m., 30 minutes later than before. Most every other high school in the state starts before 8 a.m.

Alston has already incorporated some online work into her biology classes and plans to teach some fully online science courses when the new program starts.

This week her students have been making computer animations of osmosis (the diffusion of water across a selectively permeable membrane, such as the root of a plant). She believes that the online modules let her students move as quickly or slowly as suits their learning style. And, she said, she’s better able to work one on one with kids to help them.

“It makes the teaching and the learning more personalized,” she said.

With the online courses, she’s looking forward to students being able to do their work at the time of day when they’re most alert — and for most, that won’t be 7:30 a.m.

Kinsley Zaugg, a sophomore in Alston’s class, said she’ll sign up for the online classes in the fall.

Right now, she has math first thing in the morning. And, Zaugg joked, she often leaves thinking, “Wait, what did I just learn?”

To her, “more sleep sounds fantastic.”

She’d like to be able to do her school work around 5 p.m., when her after-school activities are over. She likes the idea of being able to connect with a teacher when it fits her schedule best.

The district is calling the model “blended learning.” And it brought in an instructional design consultant from Las Vegas to help set up the classes.

It will not cost students any money to enroll in an online class.

There are still some kinks to be worked out — such as buses won’t run later in the morning to pick up students who start at 9 a.m. And the district is figuring out how to get computers to students and families that may not have the resources.

Already, though, some students are excited for the day when they can set their alarms a little later.

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